Prickly? The Cactus Analogy

Photo by Pahala Basuki on Unsplash

Twenty-some years ago, a public expert named, Camara Phyllis Jones, wrote a powerhouse piece about a gardener’s tale and racism. She used gardening as a metaphor for how we treat people differently, and then end up with different outcomes, usually acting surprised when the plants we neglected don’t grow or die.

Above is a direct link to the article.

Specifically, in our society, we have some plants that we tend to with lots of fertilizer, sunlight, water, weeding, and trimming. Those bloom into the gorgeous successful flowers. Then, we have this whole other portion of our societal garden that we just let get choked by weeds. We let them go without water. We keep them out of the sun in the shade. We don’t tend or fertilize them. There are still some flowers that bloom in this part of the garden, but it is because they are hardy. It is not because everything is fair in the garden.

I want to extend what this powerful metaphor was saying and talk about why people from oppressed groups are prickly. I read about it earlier today from the black perspective, and it had perfect clarity:

These are people talking about being shades of angry. What their anger leads to is a cactus-like response from them on social media at unpredictable times.

The fact is that the same thing happens to me. I was yelled at for it earlier today. “You need to be the academic, unemotional, blah, blah, blah discussion participant. You can’t react to racism, sexism, classism, fill-in-the-blank.”

Well, I grew up in a desert environment metaphorically. I am that cactus who doesn’t follow Robert’ Rules of Order to talk about the assault of the right wing on higher education. I do swear like a sailor because that’s how I talk. Visit my family at a holiday. It’s the norm. I’m getting too old to try to fit into delicate flower life.

P.S. The poverty suffered by people of color is worse and this is not in any way intended to equate them. Nonetheless. I have the desert environment that formed my development.



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Deborah Megivern

Deborah Megivern

From 1976–77, I was living with the FLDS polygamist cult. In 1982, I went to foster care. From these traumas, a thousand more would launch.